Sunday, August 12, 2007

On the importance of getting news from the field: The New York Times and other international news sources.

Some of my friends won’t look at the NYT because it is, they say, “liberal”. My problem with that is that many of them are not otherwise availing themselves of news about the outside world, which means they merely deprive themselves of the kind of worldly information that our country and our world must have if they are to deal with the emerging new circumstances we are all caught up in. We keep on looking backwards, believing the platitudes that our country and every country tells themselves while in fact the world, through the medium of improved information technologies and ever faster and cheaper transport technologies, is getting functionally more connected – “integrated” yes, as we are often told by those who delight in the internet, but in some ways less integrated than forced together, cheek by jowl, whether we like it or not, into a set of relations with peoples whose ways of life confuse and offend us, even threaten us, even as ours confuse and threaten them. All the more reason for us to seek sources of news beyond our immediate horizons – not only because it is significant but because it might help us anticipate the real issues coming upon us, even to give us some perspective on what is happening to us now, in our own setting, that worries and offends us.

I recommend the New York Times to my friends, not because it is right all the time but because it has so many real people on the ground in so many places that their reports are as close to the real situations going on as any other news source. The bias of an editorial board needs to be distinguished from the value of empirical reports from the field. Dexter Filkin’s article a couple years ago on how difficult it was to get the “truth” of a gun battle when he went to the site exemplifies the problem folks have if they are to know what is going on in the world: there are many versions of an event, and virtually every source has a bias. So merely to read sources that have already filtered the “raw” reports from the field is no answer. Even if the sources are flawed we need to know what is going on the world. For that reason we seek access to the sources closest to situations, to learn what they see and hear. The solution to bias is not to remain ignorant: it has to be to listen as we best can to those sources closest to what is going on. The value news sources that provide “boots on the ground” is that they, if anyone, can best help us grasp what is going on in the world, even if the news is not good.

It seems significant to me that, despite many efforts otherwise by this administration, it now is admitting what the international news sources have been saying for years: the policies and actions of the American government have been disastrous for the world, also for the American people, a fact whose consequences will weigh upon my country for decades to come. It is a legacy to the next generation. As they become aware of the squandering of good will and material wealth that has taken place in the last six years, will they not condemn this generation of leaders, and even the public who elected them uncritically, ignorantly, even basking in their own ignorance? I urge upon my friends who reject the New York Times because of its reports on international news to seek other sources of empirical information so that they can be informed as they best can. This could mean going to other international news sources: The Guardian, or The Independent in Britain, Le Monde if they know French, or otherwise to make a point of looking at the best news sources around the world (Also the Washington Post, and the McClatchy papers in the U.S., which have a good reputation even though they are much smaller). Knowing that what anyone “knows” is faulty and must be rectified by continual diligence in seeking the best information from the field, none of us can depend on commentators who have scarce perception of what the rest of the world is like.

No comments: